The Grand Ole Opry has always been a staple of the country music industry, and it first opened on this date (March 16th, 1974) a mere 49 years ago.
The move to the new facility, which certainly earned the name “Grand,” left behind its former home in The Ryman Auditorium. The Grand Ole Opry had previously been housed at the Ryman for 41 years.
The four decades of the Grand Ole Opry being at The Ryman were full of historical country music performances. The Opry History website states that the forty-year-run marked many firsts for the iconic country music stage:
“Hank Williams made his debut. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Jeannie Seely, and Dolly Parton joined the Opry family. Elvis Presley made his only Opry appearance.
Johnny Cash became a member, met his wife, and during one infamous show, broke all of the footlights at the front of the stage inside Ryman Auditorium.”
It was difficult to leave behind a building that housed so many memorable, country music moments, but the staggering new 4,400 seat venue created just for the Grand Ole Opry made the move a little easier.
The Grand Ole Opry’s last performance in the Ryman was marked by their final Friday show on March 15th, 1974, which the Opry broadcasted.
“Candy Kisses” by George Morgan wrapped up the Ryman’s 41 year run as the Opry’s home, and Johnny and June Carter Cash sang “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” on the following broadcasted program (Grand Ole Gospel Time) to end the night.
The next night marked the “Grand” opening for the new home of the Opry, which Opry History describes as a jam-packed country music celebration. The event even called for then President Richard Nixon to be in attendance for the Grand Ole Opry’s dedication:
“Roy Acuff opened the first show in the new 4,440-seat Grand Ole Opry House with a performance of ‘The Wabash Cannonball.’
President Richard Nixon was in attendance and lead the Opry audience in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to First Lady Pat Nixon. The night featured a packed lineup, so each artist was limited to performing just one song.”
Tricky Dick even got behind the piano:
The 49 years following in the Grand Ole Opry’s new home have been just as important as its original run in Ryman Auditorium. Countless country music legends have graced the stage at the Opry and the venue is quite possibly the most recognizable stage in country music.
Opry’s Historical site states its musical and cultural significance elegantly, stating:
“With an untouchable legacy of shaping and sharing the genre, the most illustrious family of artists in the industry, and an ardent global audience, after almost 100 years, the Opry continues to be the true home of country music.”
The Opry House recently redesigned its stage for the first time in 20 years, and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year in 2024.